Hard News by Russell Brown

19

Music: God Save the Clean

If you've found our political season wearying, spare a thought for the journalists. And, in particular, for John Campbell. He has hosted the Silver Scroll Awards for the last couple of years, but this time the demands of post-election news mean he's had to withdraw and his place at tonight's awards in Dunedin will be taken by his RNZ colleague Jesse Mulligan.

This cruelly deprives John of the chance to wax lyrical about this year's Hall of Fame honorees The Clean. We were chatting about this online yesterday – and John not only leapt at the half-hint that he could craft a statement on this important cultural matter, but suggested that I could invite anyone else who felt so moved to knock out a tribute.

And so it came to pass. Here's John and a few other folk who are keen on The Clean. And yes, it did turn out to be all chaps of a certain age ...

John Campbell

Dear The Clean,

I’m sorry I couldn’t be in Dunedin. Not that you give a shit, but I do. And I blame Winston Peters and the electorate and a really thoughtless election date, five days before the Silver Scrolls.

But I wanted to tell you why I love your music so much. And not just your music – you.

In part, it was that David buttoned his shirt to the top.  I love that look.

In part, it’s because I don’t ever recall meeting a fan of yours that I didn’t like. And Richard Langston, whom I miss now that I live in Auckland and he lives in Wellington, is a wonderful man. And if he loves you, and he does, then that’s recommendation enough for me.

In part, it’s because I was 17 in 1981, when 'Tally Ho' came out. And it went into the Top 20, without a single radio station (other than the student stations, which I didn’t even know about) playing it. And that was miraculous and just. It was such a great song, with Martin’s keys, and Bob’s bass line, which has always reminded me of a fat guy running for a bus.

But there was something else, and I wasn’t aware enough to notice it yet, but years later when I read the brilliant Alexis Petridis writing about another of my favourite bands, Orange Juice, I realised he was talking about almost all the music from that period that I loved (and still love). It was “the dizzy ebullience”, the genuine pop quality of being “utterly undeniable”, “and the band's endearingly ramshackle musicianship.”

Yes. 1981 was so fucking grim and awful. And 'Tally Ho' wasn’t. And when I heard Boodle, Boodle, Boodle, and that moment on 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else', about fifteen seconds in, when the snare drum starts, and David is going at speed and Bob is keeping up, and they’re running, running, as if through traffic, and Hamish is urging them on, I would lift the needle off when the vocal started and move it back to the beginning of the song, over and over, and imagine what it was like to be in a band and play like that. That fast.

In part, it’s because I could see them live.

I’d found punk, through my friend William’s older brother. And we would go to EMI in Cuba Mall when the imports came in, vinyl emissaries from a distant world: Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, The Cure, The Jam, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees. I recite their names now with the wistful reverie of an old man looking at a class photo. Where did they go? What became of them? But the fact is, I never met any of them, or saw any of them on the street.  None of them were even in my country.

But The Clean were. I knew people who knew them. Imagine that! And I could see them live, and seeing them live has always been a giddying treat, those concerts at which you forget yourself and get lost and feel something that I can’t describe with a better word than gratitude.

In part, it’s because they write landscapes. Go to Unknown Country, which is such a splendid album and contains 'Twist Top', a song that still sounds like it was written yesterday, and 'Happy Lil Fella', a song that’s barely two minutes long but feels inexplicably cinematic, and listen to 'Wipe Me I’m Lucky'. I swear to God, if you’ve never been to Central Otago, and you’re wondering what it’s like, the first 68 seconds gets the hurtling infinity, the echoing emptiness, the slight regret of solitude, so exactly right that tour buses should play it on State Highway 85, just past the Ida Valley turn-off, charging inland, as the road heads towards St Bathans and Cambrians, then chickens out and swings away. 

(Later, Bob/Robert would evoke this emptiness so uncannily on his solo album, Creeping Unknown, that it seems criminal he hasn’t made a fortune writing movie soundtracks.)

They’re some of the reasons I love The Clean. Just some of them.

I wish I was in Dunedin to see them be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Silver Scrolls.

I know they’re not much given to flannel, and may even be slightly shy about it all. But after almost four decades of writing music that I still play with wonder, I hope they walk up to the stage with their grins on and their heads held high, loving it. I’ll be listening and clapping. As I have been for 36 years. 

Grant Robertson

1991: the Flying Nun 10th anniversary party at Sammys in Dunedin.  So many moments –Shayne and Peter playing 'Randolph's Going Home', and getting to hear 'Tally Ho' live for the first time.  My friend Jane Morgan grabbing me on the dance floor " I never thought we would hear this live" before shoving me into the mosh.  For a younger generation of fans it felt complete to see and hear the band that started it all.  I have seen them many times since – most recently and poignantly with Peter Gutteridge

It was searing, beautiful and unique.  It was The Clean.

Richard Langston

I love the energy of The Clean, the sheer joyous momentum of the racket they make: seeing them live is still a moment of high anticipation: Hamish settling in over the drums, Robert about to make that bass hum, and David ready to attack, take on the room, set a jet engine of noise loose with that guitar. The sound of them never fails to lift me, take me out of myself, make me feel part of something greater.

They inspired a record label and wiped out the cultural cringe. When I heard the 45 ‘Getting Older’ in London in 1983 I thought it better than anything I was hearing - like all the best Clean songs, it just went to the centre of me and stayed there. It was also confirmation that I should go home and start writing about the music still coming of out Dunedin – the seed of six issues of a fanzine called Garage

And who couldn’t admire a band who’ve always done things their own way, who’ve paid no heed to convention or the music industry. They had belief. They were cool. They were more radical than any overtly political band: they said, don’t sell out, follow your nose, resist, kick against the pricks.

After nearly 40 years of making music, they’re still fresh. I never tire of them. It’s nothing to do with nostalgia. I hear the opening guitar chords to ‘Anything Could Happen’ and I still believe in the possibilities.

Grant McDougall

 Without question, the most electric atmosphere I' ve ever experienced at a gig was within a jam-to-the-gunnels Sammy's, Dunedin, on May 4, 1989. 

For The Clean were about to play their first-ever re-union gig and by then their legend and influence had boomed since their early '80s demise.

They came on, the immortal opening riff to 'Tally Ho' started and pandemonium erupted.

I have seen them many times since, too. They are a fantastic band. Their recording are fun and exciting and as people, they are bloody good sorts.

Rob Hosking

The first band I remember that sounded Kiwi. It was partly the Kilgour drawl, but it was something more than that. A mix of the laidback but watchful. 

It was early '82, I'd just left home, was very much the country boy in the great big freaky city, walking down Wellington's Fairlie Tce and Devon St on the way to Wellington polytech, and I heard 'Anything Could Happen' come jangling out the windows of one of the student flats.

Stood there, transfixed, and listened to it play through. It was a moment.  Kept an ear out and heard it a few nights later on Radio Active, caught the band name. Bought Boodle Boodle at Colin Morris's record shop when the bursary came through.

Jeremy Bioletti

Somewhere around the very early eighties I saw the Clean play at the Station Hotel in Anzac Ave. To say they were distinct is an understatement. They weren't punk, they were pop. The mix was like a four track. The overall sound was like an elegant chainsaw. I had seen nothing like them at the time and I have seen nothing like them since.

David Cohen

I think on a good night they not only sound like the best band in New Zealand — which they are — but the only band in New Zealand.

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Oh, my turn.

It's hard to know what else to say. I've nominated 'Point That Thing Somewhere Else' as my favourite Flying Nun song and written about how it was, and still is, the music in my head. I picked it for my RNZ Mixtape. I've tried to explain the importance of Boodle Boodle Boodle as a point in cultural history. I've written about how The Clean were the first band I reviewed for Rip It Up, never knowing that filing that review would change my life, and about the brilliant times we had around the recording of Vehicle in London. I republished David's account of how 'Tally Ho!' was written (blame the Androidss). I'll always be grateful to the band for playing a fundraiser for my autistic kids and doing a roaring, raging version of 'Point That Thing' that seemed to last fully 20 minutes.

I guess it's just to say that The Clean are elemental. I know there have been other people in the band – and the role of the late Peter Gutteridge warrants particular note – but since they started recording it's been David, Hamish and Bob, three corners of a triangle. I admire the way that they can reconvene when they choose and that chemistry is there ready for them, and the songs are waiting to be explored one more time. It's indivisible. In the sense that I think music took the mantle of cultural identity from the more respectable parts of the New Zealand canon during my lifetime, it's my McCahon.

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The Silver Scrolls will be streamed live from Dunedin by RNZ (and broadcast on the actual radio). You can also see them here on Facebook, on Face TV (Sky channel 83) and on Freeview (channel 50).

And before that, the first Scrolls in the southern city will be marked with a chat between Richard Langston and Bryan Crump about the music of Dunedin, from 6.30pm until the awards begin at 8pm.

RNZ deserves great credit for its commitment to the event, which also extends to Anatomy of a Scroll, an RNZ Music feature in which each of the women in the final five talk about how their songs got made.

And finally, this week, Nadia Reid appeared on Later with Jools Holland and played her finalist song, 'Richard'. It was a spine-tingling performance and the best thing on the show. I am Team Nadia.

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Although, let's be fair, LCD Soundsystem were pretty fine too ...

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Long before he was weaving ironic magic for The Spinoff, Hayden Donnell was half of a duo called Great North, with his wife Rachel. It's been fully three years since they made a new record, long enough for them to look even more like responsible citizens:

But there's a new album, The Golden Age, out on October 20. And the first song, 'The Late Bus Home', is a stately song of loss, for a departed friend.

It's on the streaming services and you can also buy it here on Bandcamp, where you can read the lyrics too.

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Tunes!

I don't know anything about Mystik beyond that he's based in Mdelbourne – and I assume he's a New Zealander – but this is a nice slab of dub techno:

I heard this Crazy P remix on a rather good !K7 compilation of nu disco and funky house music released on Bandcamp this week and it really stood out for me. Classic elements moulded into something slinky af:

Thanks to Paddy Buckley for the heads-up on this John Morales remix (I have no idea how I missed it). Free download!

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